White House announces fast-track schedule for 5,000 MW of projects

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Obama administration yesterday said it will expedite approval of seven commercial-scale solar and wind projects on federal and tribal lands in Arizona, California, Nevada and Wyoming.

The projects, which include a sprawling wind energy facility in southern Wyoming that would be the largest in North America, would generate a combined 5,000 megawatts, enough to power up to 1.5 million homes, the White House said.

The announcement also set target dates over the next two years to issue federal permit and review decisions for each project. Three of the proposals — the Quartzsite, McCoy and Desert Harvest solar energy facilities, representing a combined 1,000 MW — are scheduled for approval by the end of the year.

In addition, the Bureau of Land Management by fall 2014 is scheduled to finish its review of the 3,000 MW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project in Carbon County, Wyo., a massive, 230,000-acre proposal designed to avoid key sage grouse habitat, the administration said.

While BLM approved the project last month, the proposal also requires a land-use plan decision expected in October, followed by review of a series of right-of-way applications through 2014, the White House said (Greenwire, July 6).

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to expand domestic energy production and strengthen the economy, we are working to advance smart development of renewable energy on our public lands,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement this morning. “These seven proposed solar and wind projects have great potential to grow our nation’s energy independence, drive job creation and power economies across the west.”

The announcement came hours before federal officials including Salazar are scheduled to address the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, which is hosted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). And it came a day before presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is scheduled to stump in Iowa — where he has been criticized for opposing the extension of a tax credit for wind energy production.

Lawmakers in Washington are debating whether to extend several key renewable energy incentives, including the wind production tax credit set for expiration at the end of the year. The Senate Finance Committee earlier this month voted to extend the credits, among other clean energy incentives, raising hope that the breaks would be included in a yet-to-be-unveiled House version of the package (E&E Daily, Aug. 3).

If approved on schedule, the seven projects would add significantly to the 7,200 MW of renewable energy the Obama administration has permitted on federal lands since taking office. The approvals would also help exceed a goal set by the 2005 Energy Policy Act to permit 10,000 MW of renewable energy by 2015.

The expedited reviews stem from a presidential order issued in March that charged the Office of Management and Budget with streamlining the permitting and review process for infrastructure projects. The White House said additional expedited infrastructure projects will be announced in the coming weeks.

Renewable energy has taken a prominent role in the presidential race, with Romney last month announcing he firmly opposes extension of the wind production tax credit, which is a key Obama priority (E&E Daily, July 31).

Republicans have also hammered the president over loan guarantees his administration offered to renewable energy companies that later went bankrupt, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars (see related story).

But the president’s renewable energy platform may find a welcome audience in Nevada, a battleground state that is a national leader in the development of solar energy. In March, Obama visited the 50 MW Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility near Las Vegas, the nation’s largest operating photovoltaic plant.

Salazar and Reid today are scheduled to tout the completion of the 150 MW Spring Valley Wind project about 30 miles east of Ely, which will become the state’s first commercial wind facility.

The 66-turbine proposal by Pattern Wind Energy moved forward in April after the company struck a settlement with environmental groups to monitor the project’s impacts on Brazilian free-tailed bats, which roost in a nearby cave (Greenwire, April 18).

The summit comes weeks after the Obama administration finalized a sweeping new plan to accelerate development of commercial solar projects on public lands in the Southwest, pointing developers to areas with the fewest cultural and environmental conflicts (E&ENews PM, July 24).